by Joe Malinconico
PATERSON — An infusion of more than $46 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding has produced a 19.6% increase in Paterson’s proposed city budget for 2022.
Most of the federal money would be used for one-time initiatives and projects, including a possible $20 million community center, officials said.
Property taxes for city government would rise by 2%, costing the owner of an average assessed home an extra $131 per year, according to budget documents.
“We are just lucky to have the additional funding to do other spending, the majority of which is for one-time expenses, capital improvements, or pilot projects,” said Paterson business administrator Kathleen Long. “That strategy is important so the city does not create legacy costs that cannot be covered when that money goes away.”
In a 7-0 vote, the City Council gave preliminary approval to the $321.6 million budget this week. Two members — Alex Mendez and Lilisa Mimms — left the council chambers moments before the budget vote and returned to the room minutes after the voting ended.
The council — which sometimes spends hours talking about a single topic — did not conduct any discussion of the budget during Tuesday’s vote. Several council members said they expected there to be substantial discussion before final passage. Officials have scheduled a public hearing and final vote on the budget for Aug. 16.
Long said the city’s budget would only be about $253 million if grants and extra COVID-19 funding were not included. That would represent a 3.45% increase in total city spending, she said.
The budget says Paterson is getting about $40 million in pandemic relief money directly from the federal government and an increase of $6.1 million in COVID-19 funding through the state.
Long said only $4.2 million of the pandemic relief funding would be used to cover operating expenses. She said that money would be used to offset a $2.5 million drop in revenue from municipal court fines, which officials believe has been caused by the pandemic, and to cover a $1.7 million increase in garbage collection costs.
The police and fire departments account for more than 40% of Paterson’s budget, with $82 million covering salaries and $24 million for public safety employees’ pensions, according to city documents.
The budget also includes $10 million for sewer improvements, $4 million for “premium pay” for employees who worked in-person during the pandemic, $2 million for the proposed visitor center at the Great Falls and various amounts for public works department vehicles, police cars, park improvements and repairs to City Hall.
The budget would earmark $1.4 million of the pandemic funding to renew the mayor’s guaranteed income program that recently expired. The first round of the program, which ran for a year, provided 110 low-income families with $400 per month on debit cards. The recipients were chosen through a lottery system.
Officials said Paterson would take a new round of applications and hold another lottery for the guaranteed Income payments.